Tablet functions seem to be heading in two directions: There are those primarily designed for consumption of books, movies and other content, and those intended for content creation as well as consumption.
While that distinction is not always made clear in the market, Barnes & Noble announced two new tablets on Wednesday that bump up display resolution and power to improve the reading and video-viewing experiences. The bookseller announced the 7-in. Nook HD for $199 and the 9-in. Nook HD+ for $269.
The new Nooks also don't come packaged with more than an Android OfficeSuite viewer, so that users can open and view documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDFs, but cannot easily edit, print or share them.
A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman confirmed in an email to Computerworld that to get editing capabilities of documents, spreadsheets and presentations, a customer would need to purchase the OfficeSuite Professional app from the Barnes & Noble app store. Currently, OfficeSuite Pro costs $14.99 in BN's apps store.
That added software cost might not discourage a customer who's interested in starting with a low-cost tablet, such as the $199 Nook HD, and later on finds a need to edit documents. The lack of a camera might be another matter, however.
Bill Saperstein, vice president of digital products hardware engineering for Barnes & Noble, said the company could have installed a camera, but decided instead to focus on processing power and other factors since it was "not trying to be all things to all people."
Behind his comment is the reality that to add more functions can cost much more. Barnes & Noble noted in making its announcement that a 9.7-in. new iPad starts at $499, allowing a wide range of functions, compared to the 9-in. Nook HD+, starting at $269.
On the other hand, the low-cost Google Nexus 7 tablet, starting at $199, comes with a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera, although its display is just 1280 x 800 (216 pixels per inch) compared with the Nook HD's display of 1440 x 900 (243 pixels per inch).
Amazon's 7-in. Kindle Fire HD tablet also has a starting of $199 but has double the storage, 16GB, of both the lowest-cost Nook HD or Nexus 7, which both have 8 GB. The Kindle Fire HD also has a front-facing camera, but its display matches the Nexus 7's, which is less than the Nook HD's display.
Barnes & Noble did make some potential content-creating customers happy by working with Microsoft, its recent investment partner, to add support in a new Nook email client for Microsoft Exchange atop of Gmail and other popular email services. Barnes & Noble officials said the partnership with Microsoft could involve more collaboration in the future.
Barnes & Noble might be leaving behind some customers who want a camera and document-editing functions with their tablet. Or the company may have decided it is more profitable to specialize and offer premium viewing from a 7-in. tablet. Tuesday's Nook Video announcement could hint at Barnes & Noble's intent, but it won't be clear until it's known how much a video or a TV show might cost, since Nook Video won't be a subscription service like Amazon offers.